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MTSU making history: Visit to Vietnam 2013

MTSU making history: Visit to Vietnam 2013

Vietnam trip featured graphic

An MTSU history class made university history by traveling to Vietnam for the first time in spring 2013. MTSU News and Media Relations writer Gina Logue traveled with Dr. Derek Frisby and 12 members of his “Public Memory and the Vietnam War” class for a 14-day study-abroad adventure that took them up and down the countryside that most have only seen in newsreel footage, history texts and Hollywood films.

The first step in their journey is here.

The group was guided by Vietnam Battlefield Tours. Learn more at  www.vietnambattlefieldtours.com.

 

MTSU's study-abroad class visits the Presidential Palace, the former home of South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu from 1967 to 1975, in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. From L to R, Bryan Gilley of Gallatin; Gina Logue of the MTSU Office of News and Media Relations; Vietnam War veteran William "Bud" Morris; Samuel Kyle Kelley of Murfreesboro; Dr. Derek Frisby, assistant professor of history; Courtney Schaaf (holding banner) of Mt. Juliet; Matt Deville of Murfreesboro; Kenna Porter of Mt. Juliet; Justin Lowe of Christiana; and Lizette Palk of Readyville. (Photo by Edgar "Tex" Stiteler, Vietnam Battlefield Tours)

MTSU’s study-abroad class visits the Presidential Palace, the former home of South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu from 1967 to 1975, in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. From left to right are Bryan Gilley of Gallatin; Gina Logue of the MTSU Office of News and Media Relations; Vietnam War veteran William “Bud” Morris; Samuel Kyle Kelley of Murfreesboro; Dr. Derek Frisby, assistant professor of history; Courtney Schaaf (holding banner) of Mt. Juliet; Matt Deville of Murfreesboro; Kenna Porter of Mt. Juliet; Justin Lowe of Christiana; and Lizette Palk of Readyville. (Photo by Edgar “Tex” Stiteler, Vietnam Battlefield Tours)

Monday, March, 11

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Our pioneering troupe of MTSU study-abroad students just survived a 14-and-a-half-hour flight from Los Angeles aboard EVA Air. Our trip was made much more pleasant by the efficient Taiwanese flight attendants.

Student Kenna Porter from Mt. Juliet and I, among others, tried a breakfast of fresh fruit, mushrooms and a tasty Chinese chicken porridge dish that had roughly the consistency of grits. We’re looking forward to arriving in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, the capital of the former South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

The city was renamed after the revolutionary considered the George Washington of Vietnam. Our guides tell us that the Vietnamese are friendly and eager to speak English with us. It is our expectation that most of the shops will take American dollars as well as the dong, which is the Vietnamese unit of currency.

Most of the students are roaming about the Taipei airport right now checking out souvenirs and possibly collecting some Taiwanese currency.

When we get to the Ho Chi Minh City, we’ll delve right into checking it out before we check into our hotel.

More to come.

— Gina Logue (gina.logue@mtsu.edu)

After getting the broad view of the Mekong River from a large motorized boat, the MTSU group boarded smaller boats where propulsion came from a human source. (MTSU photo by Gina Logue)

After getting the broad view of the Mekong River from a large motorized boat, the MTSU group boarded smaller boats where propulsion came from a human source. (MTSU photo by Gina Logue)

Tuesday, March 12

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — Even 38 years after the Americans’ frantic departure from Vietnam, with now iconic scenes of Saigon civilians lined up on top of the CIA building in a desperate bid to avoid the inevitable, the war stirs conflicting, passionately held views that are not easily summarized in simple terms.

Dr. Derek Frisby poses with a jungle companion during a stop at a café in the Mekong Delta.

Dr. Derek Frisby poses with a jungle companion during a stop at a café in the Mekong Delta.

Our initial MTSU study-abroad excursion into the former Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, was a study in contrasts, ranging from the formality of the glorious Presidential Palace to the frightening images and artifacts of the War Remnants Museum.

The palace where Nguyen Van Thieu, president of South Vietnam from 1967 to 1975, lived was built on the grounds of the French Governor General.

Facing a busy street at the end of a “T,” the view quite intentionally resembles the Champs-Elysees in Paris. From the vintage radio equipment and the war room decorated with huge maps in the basement to the conference room and reception room on the upper floors, the palace presents an aura of glasses-clinking officialdom.

MTSU study-abroad student Courtney Schaaf enjoys a refreshing sip of coconut milk right out of the coconut while aboard a boat touring the Mekong River in Vietnam.

MTSU study-abroad student Courtney Schaaf enjoys a refreshing sip of coconut milk right out of the coconut while aboard a boat touring the Mekong River in Vietnam.

As a counterpoint, there is the War Remnants Museum, where terms like “the U.S. Aggressive War Against Vietnam” are used in exhibits of charred segments of American armaments and photos of skin peeled several layers deep after contact with Agent Orange, the defoliant used to reduce the jungle’s clout as an enemy ally.

It is here that students Kenna Porter of Mt. Juliet and Lizette Palk of Readyville shared their first impressions.

“It’s just kind of embarrassing — again,” said Palk. “I mean, helping’s fine, but I wish we’d mind our own business.”

“I think I’m on the somewhat conservative side,” Porter said. “Obviously, we did great good when it came to the Holocaust.”

“Yeah, but, even in World War II, was it OK for us to bomb the Japanese like that?” Palk replied. “I just seems like there is a sense of entitlement.”

While Palk and Porter admitted they didn’t have all the answers, the bare bones of their short discussion form the skeleton for a smoldering debate that continues today.

— Gina Logue (gina.logue@mtsu.edu)

A statue of the Virgin Mary in a pagoda-style gazebo reflects both Vietnam's Catholic heritage and its Asian culture. The statue is in front of Cha Cham Church in Cholon, one of many stops on the MTSU class's jam-packed itinerary.

A statue of the Virgin Mary in a pagoda-style gazebo reflects both Vietnam’s Catholic heritage and its Asian culture. The statue is in front of Cha Cham Church in Cholon, one of many stops on the MTSU class’s jam-packed itinerary.

Veteran News and Media Relations staffer Gina Logue is traveling with Dr. Derek Frisby and his history class to chronicle their study-abroad trip to Vietnam until March 24.

Thursday, March 14

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — Traffic in Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, as many locals still prefer to call it, is a chaotic game of chicken. With cars, buses, taxis and other vehicles competing for the road with some 3 million motorbikes, to cede ground is not an option. Be aggressive or be in jeopardy.

MTSU student Justin Lowe pauses to admire the water buffalo in a rice paddy near Ba Den Mountain (Black Virgin) Mountain. (MTSU photo by Gina Logue)

MTSU student Justin Lowe pauses to admire the water buffalo in a rice paddy near Ba Den, or Black Virgin, Mountain. (MTSU photo by Gina Logue)

We left the urban bustle and headed for Cholon, where we were impressed with Cha Cham Church.

This colorful combination of Asian culture and Catholic influence from the era of French Colonialism was where President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother sought sanctuary in 1963 after escaping a coup through a series of tunnels. They were captured the next day and were murdered as they were being taken to the insurgents’ headquarters.

From there, our air-conditioned bus (Thankfully! The temperature reached a high of 93 today!) motored south on Highway 1 toward the Mekong River, more than 2,700 miles of life-sustaining water that supports industries ranging from rice to tourism.

Way down upon the Mekong River, our MTSU study-abroad class visited an island where coconut candy is made from scratch. Each coconut is burst upon a sharp stake by hand, ground up in a machine, combined with other ingredients and wrapped individually. Each wrapper can handle up to 1,000 pieces of candy each day.

After enjoying island-hopping in the motorized tourist boat, we stopped at a charming café, overlooking a pond full of lotus blossoms, for a bite to eat.

At first, I wondered if the fish would eat us first. A couple of well-cooked elephant fish were positioned at each end of the table. Our tour guide informed us that they’re called elephant fish because they look like an elephant’s ear as they flap around in the water.

Our waitress went to each fish, scraped its meat with a fork, wrapped the fish and some greens inside rice paper and rolled it up to resemble a large spring roll. With or without dipping sauce, it was tasty.

After lunch, it was time to step into small boats, four passengers in each one, and travel the Mekong the old-fashioned way — by a person pushing us along with a pole. The water was muddy and silty, but the trip was a serene moment in an otherwise busy day.

— Gina Logue (gina.logue@mtsu.edu)

 

Friday, March 15

TAY NINH PROVINCE, Vietnam — Today’s excursion into the culture and history of Vietnam took us from temples to tunnels.

In Tay Ninh Province, northwest of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), we marveled at a mass at the Cao Dai Holy See. At one time, Cao Dai was a separate governmental entity within the country of Vietnam, not unlike Vatican City’s presence inside Italy. It had its own courts and its own government.

The Cao Dai religion, as it was explained to us, tries to reconcile the faith in nature of primitive times with the faith in science of more modern times in order to unify people of various beliefs. In fact, it represents a combination of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.

MTSU student Sam Kelley emerges from the claustrophobic Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam, camera intact. (MTSU photo by Gina Logue)

MTSU student Sam Kelley emerges from the claustrophobic Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam, camera intact. (MTSU photo by Gina Logue)

After removing our shoes outside the temple, we entered and were dazzled immediately by the extremely ornate and colorful surroundings. We were privileged to watch the mass from the balcony. Followers clad in white robes entered in orderly rows as musicians played, their song punctuated by the occasional tone of a large bell.

Our lunch on this day was provided by a former Viet Cong guerrilla who now owns a restaurant in Tay Ninh City.

At the end of our meal, she greeted us, wearing the medals her government had given her for her service. She started working for the VC in 1969 when she was just 14. But now, years after the war, the American veterans who are leading our tour consider her a friend.

The final stop was the Cu Chi Tunnels, an amazingly intricate network of subterranean survival space. Local residents hid there to escape the American military during the Vietnam War. Each segment of the tunnels had a kitchen, a meeting room, a sleeping area and a food storage room, and each segment was connected to other segments in other villages.

Originally, the tunnels were built to accommodate the small Vietnamese frame. They have since been widened to accommodate tourists who are, well, wide. Several of us crawled on our hands and knees through the tunnels, disturbing the slumber of a few bats along the way. We were stunned by the diligence and painstaking effort it took to create such an intricate survival system and amazed we were able to make it out.

— Gina Logue (gina.logue@mtsu.edu)

 

Friday, March 15, Post No. 2

PLEIKU, Vietnam — Your faithful correspondent found herself needing to leave a few things behind in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) because the next leg of our journey required boarding Vietnam Airlines for a trip to the city of Pleiku.

The airline has a limit of one carry-on bag and one checked bag weighing no more than 44 pounds. If anyone was still sleepy, the bus ride over a bumpy, partly-paved, partly dirt road called Highway 14 jostled him or her awake.

Between bumps, we passed coffee trees and rice paddies so brilliantly green that no one could ever accuse National Geographic of Photoshopping the pictures. The farmers in the area also grow corn, peppers and tapioca.

A woman in Tay Ninh Province makes rice paper by pouring liquidated rice onto a hot substance then laying the circular paper on mats to cool.

A woman in Tay Ninh Province makes rice paper by pouring liquidated rice onto a hot substance then laying the circular paper on mats to cool.

An hour-and-a-half later, we arrived in Kontom, a city of some 400,000 people and one of the sites of the 1972 Easter Offensive of the Vietnam War.

In late March 1972, North Vietnamese tanks rolled across the Demilitarized Zone. The Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army attacked both Pleiku and Kontom After a three-week lull, American B-52s under the direction of John Paul Vann, leader of the U.S. Second Regional Assistance Group, combined with South Vietnamese army forces to turn back the enemy and defend Kontom.

The truly compelling part of this leg of the journey was a visit to the Vinh Son Montagnard Orphanage, home to 119 tiny tots who were abandoned in desperation and rescued with compassion.

Run by the Sisters of the Miraculous Medal, this combination school, farm and residence shelters and educates children who were cast aside for numerous reasons — ranging from family poverty to disabilities.

After the 1975 fall of Saigon, a huge influx of refugees poured into the region of the Montagnards, or “mountain people.” U.S. Special Forces remember this ethnic minority as welcome allies. In 2001, the orphanage was created somewhat informally, and in July 2005, it finally earned official nonprofit status.

When we drove through the gates, workmen were giving the exterior of the sanctuary a facelift. The interior of the sanctuary is dark with vintage wooden pews and unpretentious depictions of Biblical stories painted in the windows instead of the more expensive stained glass.

We found the older children tending to the farmyard in back of the church. The second-grade classroom I saw was Spartan, with one long table, one blackboard and no air conditioning. But there were a lot of happy little faces who greeted us with a song.

— Gina Logue (gina.logue@mtsu.edu)

 

Saturday, March 16

The statue of Ho Chi Minh, known as the "George Washington of his country" and hero for his leadership of insurgencies against both the French and American/South Vietnamese forces, in Pleiku. (MTSU photo by Gina Logue)

The statue of Ho Chi Minh, known as the “George Washington of his country” and hero for his leadership of insurgencies against both the French and American/South Vietnamese forces, in Pleiku. (MTSU photo by Gina Logue)

PLEIKU, Vietnam — Before the MTSU rolling tour of Vietnam rolled on, Dr. Derek Frisby paused at the imposing statue of Ho Chi Minh in Pleiku to lecture students about the man whose image graces all the currency.

Frisby told them that Ho petitioned President Woodrow Wilson for help in alleviating the suffering of his people at the hands of the French colonialists, to no avail. This rejection and Ho’s embrace of socialism sparked him to lead the Viet Minh resistance movement against the French starting in 1941.

In the Vietnam War, Ho’s realization that the war had stagnated in 1967 led to his ordering the 1968 Tet Offensive, one of the pivotal events of the conflict. This series of battles took American and South Vietnamese forces by surprise because they were launched during the Tet lunar new year holiday, when a cease-fire had been planned.

Our rolling tour of Vietnam rolled eastward on Highway 19 toward An Khe. Along the way, several students got out at the location of the Mang Yang Pass, where the French Mobile Group 100 was ambushed on June 24, 1954.

It was on this day after lunch with our guides from Vietnam Battlefield Tours that one student commented on how much Vietnam War veterans Edgar “Tex” Stiteler and Gene Miller add to the experience.

“Their perspective is what makes everything that we’re learning real,” said Kenna Porter of Mt. Juliet. “I think it’s easier to actually ask them personally and have them tell me rather than read a book or watch a movie or something like that.”

Stiteler served in the 1st Marine Division with India Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. Miller was with the 3rd Marine Division, Alpha Company, 1st Amphibious Tractor Battalion.

They talk to and teach the class at least as much as Dr. Frisby, who also says their assistance is “essential.” That’s high praise coming from an accomplished military historian and U.S. Marine veteran of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

— Gina Logue (gina.logue@mtsu.edu)

Dr. Derek Frisby of the MTSU Department of History explains Ho Chi Minh's role in Vietnamese history to his study-abroad class in Pleiku, Vietnam, on March 16. (MTSU photo by Gina Logue)

Dr. Derek Frisby of the MTSU Department of History explains Ho Chi Minh’s role in Vietnamese history to his study-abroad class in Pleiku, Vietnam, on March 16. (MTSU photo by Gina Logue)

 

Sunday, March 17

QUI NHON, Vietnam — Our first stop on this day was at an ancient Cham temple north of Qui Nhon. Vietnam is not a monolithic society, as our Vietnamese guide has pointed out to us.  The people of the Cham ethnic group are both Muslims and Brahamans. Their language belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian group.

MTSU students listen with interest as Pham Trong Cong, director of the My Lai Massacre Museum and massacre survivor, tells his story.

MTSU students listen with interest as Pham Trong Cong, director of the My Lai Massacre Museum and massacre survivor, tells his story.

Each of those steps leading into the temple must be a foot high! In the photo, you can see MTSU student Joey Keasler of Murfreesboro exercising great care in trying to negotiate them.

However, the most extraordinary experience of the day was the My Lai Massacre Memorial. My Lai was a village in which the U.S. soldiers of “Charlie Company,” 1st Battallion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade of the Americal Division annihilated hundreds of civilians on March 16, 1968.

After the Tet Offensive, the American intelligence community believed that large numbers of Viet Cong were hiding in My Lai, a section of My Son village. Whatever sparked the incident, women and children were killed, women were gang-raped and even the elderly were mutilated.

The museum features confiscated armaments of American troops and photos of the atrocities that definitely convey the view of the Communist government. Some of the MTSU students, while admitting the compelling nature of the tragedy, found the captions under the photographs to be entirely too hyperbolic and did not want to be quoted for the record.

“It’s disturbing that these events happened in or around where we’re standing,” Sergio Azzueta of Murfreesboro said. “It’s sad all the way around. It’s part of history and I’m glad to be here to experience some of the historical aspects, and it is important that we remember these things.”

A monument at the My Lai Massacre Museum in Vietnam honors the victims of the My Lai Massacre . (MTSU photo by Gina Logue)

A monument at the My Lai Massacre Museum in Vietnam honors the victims of the My Lai Massacre. (MTSU photo by Gina Logue)

MTSU alumnus and Vietnam veteran William “Bud” Morris explained that “somebody issued the kind of orders they issued saying there were going to be VC (Viet Cong) and VC sympathizers in the village. And, of course, … the first thing you see move, you’re going to react to that because, if you don’t, and you’ve been in combat before, they’re going to shoot you before you shoot them.”

Dr. Derek Frisby spoke with a survivor of My Lai, Pham Trong Cong, who now is the director of the My Lai Memorial Museum. Through an interpreter, Pham told the MTSU study-abroad class, “The number of tourists coming to My Lai [is] increasing day by day.”

According to Pham, 40,000 foreigners have visited the My Lai Memorial Museum, and 40 percent of them were Americans, including veterans.

When Azzueta asked Pham what he believed prompted the massacre, he said, “They (the American troops) killed them to frighten the other villagers.”

Pham said he was only 11 years old when My Lai was invaded. When the artillery shells started flying, he and the other members of his family fled into their bunker for protection.
Helicopters landed, American military personnel jumped out and threw a hand grenade into the bunker, killing all members of Pham’s family. He was saved by hiding behind a dead person for hours.

— Gina Logue (gina.logue@mtsu.edu)

 

Monday, March 18

With Hill 119 looming in the background, MTSU students wind their way around gravestones to make their way up. (MTSU photo by Gina Logue)

With Hill 119 looming in the background, MTSU students wind their way around gravestones to make their way up. (MTSU photo by Gina Logue)

 

QUE SON MOUNTAINS, Vietnam — To give his students a taste of the physical rigors of being a Marine in Vietnam, Dr. Derek Frisby led his students to Hill 119 in the Que Son Mountains. That is where the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion established a post from which they could view virtually the entire Tu Bon River Valley.

“The basic level of tactical maneuver in the military is the fire team,” Frisby explained. He then divided the class into fire teams of four members each — a leader, an automatic weapons person, a person to carry ammunition and a standard infantryman.

MTSU student Kenna Porter marvels at Vietnam's Cham Kingdom ruins, which date back to the fifth century, during a March 18 visit to the site.

MTSU student Kenna Porter marvels at Vietnam’s Cham Kingdom ruins, which date back to the fifth century, during a March 18 visit to the site.

“There are three fire teams per squad,” Frisby said. “Your squad leaders are going to be sergeants, and your fire team leaders are going to be corporals.”

While your faithful correspondent remained on a plateau below, the students hiked past gravesites and through rugged terrain all the way up the hill, exhausting their water supplies along the way.

Although drenched with sweat on the way down, the students seemed none the worse for wear. But the exercise gave them an appreciation for what it might be like to go up and down the hill all the time in the 90-degree heat and 80 percent humidity.

MTSU student Sergio Zaaueta clowns around at the Cham Kingdom ruins in Vietnam on March 18.

MTSU student Sergio Zaaueta clowns around at the Cham Kingdom ruins in Vietnam on March 18.

We also went to the ruins of the Cham Kingdom in the My Son Holyland some 70 kilometers southwest of Da Nang. The ruins date back to the fifth century and contain many towers built to honor deceased kings or genies of the Buddhist faith.

Each tower built by this ethnic group consists of a base, symbolizing the world of humans, a body, representing the spirit world, and the top of the tower, which represents animals, fruits, flowers and other things that are close to both humans and spirits. They are made out of baked bricks and sandstone and are mutually linked.

The Cham dynasty ruins constitute one of only five sites in Vietnam designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

On March 14, the Quang Nam province opened a tourism village at My Son near the ruins in order to boost tourism. More than 200 people live in the village and will provide cultural performances and eco-tours.

— Gina Logue (gina.logue@mtsu.edu)

Little Lightning takes a break at the Cham Kingdom ruins in Vietnam.

Little Lightning takes a break at the Cham Kingdom ruins in Vietnam.

Tuesday, March 19

MARBLE MOUNTAINS, Vietnam — So much of the history we’ve been privileged to experience involves climbing, and it is not for the fumble-footed. Such is the case with Marble Mountains, which actually is a grouping of five marble and limestone behemoths. Each one represents one of the five ancient elements — fire, water, wood, earth and metal. But for the darkness, it would be a child’s delight with caves and tunnels throughout.

In this March 19 photo, retired U.S. Marine and Vietnam veteran Bill Stilwagen of Vietnam Battlefield Tours instructs Joey Keasler, William "Bud" Morris and Courtney Schaaf at the site of the former Hue University, one of the pivotal locations of the 1968 Tet Offensive. (MTSU photo by Gina Logue)

In this March 19 photo, retired U.S. Marine and Vietnam veteran Bill Stilwagen of Vietnam Battlefield Tours instructs Joey Keasler, William “Bud” Morris and Courtney Schaaf at the site of the former Hue University, one of the pivotal locations of the 1968 Tet Offensive. (MTSU photo by Gina Logue)

The brave climb the enormous stone steps all the way up. The rest of us take the elevator and still find ourselves sweating and straining up a few more flights of steps.

Once inside, however, the sweet aroma of incense alerts us that we have arrived at a holy place.

“We went into a really old temple in a cave, and there were different versions of Buddha,” MTSU student Sam Kelley of Murfreesboro said.

“There were Happy Buddha, Lucky Buddha, Sleepy Buddha. We lit incense for all the different areas. There were a whole bunch of people praying.”

Back down the mountain and onto the street, the scene turns from mysticism to merchandising as the local vendors promote their wares.

This area is famous for marble and limestone crafts. However, the raw material is now shipped in from outside the country, because cutting into the mountain is prohibited.

Then, it was up Highway 1 through the Hai Van Pass, or “Pass of the Clouds,” with steep, undulating hills covered with vegetation, visible from a serpentine stretch of road that curved — well, at every curve. At a relatively flat stopping place, we took photos of an old French fort, a remnant of Vietnam’s days as a French colony, and dickered with the assertive ladies across the road for low, low prices on black pearl jewelry and other souvenirs

Upon reaching the resort city of Hue, we hooked up with Bill Stilwagen of Vietnam Battlefield Tours (www.vietnambattlefieldtours.com). He took the class to areas critical to the 1968 Tet Offensive, a siege by North Vietnamese troops that caught U.S. and South Vietnamese troops by surprise because it occurred on a holiday when it was understood there would be a cease-fire.

Gene Miller of Vietnam Battlefield Tours told an interesting story about a French photojournalist named Catherine Leroy, who changed from U.S. military fatigues into street clothes at a local church, went to the North Vietnamese troops and told them she was there to do a story.

The soldiers gave her the freedom to shoot whatever she liked. Afterward, she went back to the church, changed into her fatigues and went to the U.S. forces with her pictures and information. The result was not only valuable intelligence for American troops, but a photo story in Life Magazine titled “Faces of the Enemy.”

— Gina Logue (gina.logue@mtsu.edu)

 

Posing for a photo atop Marble Mountains are MTSU students Courtney Schaaf, Kenna Porter, Lizette Palk and Sergio Zaaueta. (MTSU photo by Gina Logue)

Posing for a photo atop Marble Mountains are MTSU students Courtney Schaaf, Kenna Porter, Lizette Palk and Sergio Zaaueta. (MTSU photo by Gina Logue)

 

Wednesday, March 20

Part of the MTSU entourage listens as Col. Pha, far left, and Col. Anh, far right with beard, tell their story of the 1968 battle for the Tay Loc airstrip. To Pha's left are, in order, Edgar “Tex” Stiteler of Vietnam Battlefield Tours; MTSU student Bryan Gilley; Dr. Derek Frisby, associate professor of history; a Vietnamese interpreter; and MTSU student Joey Keasler. (MTSU photos by Gina Logue)

Part of the MTSU entourage listens as Col. Pha, far left, and Col. Anh, far right with beard, tell their story of the 1968 battle for the Tay Loc airstrip. To Pha’s left are, in order, Edgar “Tex” Stiteler of Vietnam Battlefield Tours; MTSU student Bryan Gilley; Dr. Derek Frisby, associate professor of history; a Vietnamese interpreter; and MTSU student Joey Keasler. (MTSU photos by Gina Logue)

HUE, Vietnam — A group of MTSU study-abroad students walked for kilometers in the rain Wednesday, March 20, to find the remains of an American military airstrip from the Vietnam War.

They found much more.

The air tower of the former Tay Loc airstrip in Hue, Vietnam.

The air tower of the former Tay Loc airstrip in Hue, Vietnam.

Beside the battered airstrip tower in the city of Hue is a new memorial to the North Vietnamese soldiers who fought in the battle for the Tay Loc airfield, one of the stratetic targets of the 1968 Tet Offensive.

The U.S. Army, U.S. Marine and South Vietnamese army units were outmanned against the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces, who stunned their opponents by striking during the Vietnamese lunar new year, a time when both sides had agreed to a cease-fire.

After viewing the Citadel, the fortress home of the emperors dating back to1801, and the remnants of the Forbidden Purple City, where the emperors’ women were housed, the MTSU students, who already were drenched with sweat, plodded through a rain shower to reach the location of the former airfield.

Dr. Derek Frisby, the professor of MTSU’s first study-abroad class in Vietnam, and several students chatted with Col. Anh and Col. Pha, two greying North Vietnamese soldiers who were involved in the battle for the airstrip. Through an interpreter, they told the students they intend to keep the tower intact, although some repairs are planned.

Neither Frisby nor the class guides from Vietnam Battlefield Tours expected to see the memorial, let alone talk with participants in the battle for the airstrip.

The pagoda-style memorial features a stone monument before an altar where incense can be burned. Large Vietnamese and hammer-and-sickle flags fly at the entrance steps, and smaller versions of those flags are draped from the roof over the memorial. The hammer-and-sickle, the symbol of the former Soviet Union, represents the ruling Communist Party in Vietnam.

— Gina Logue (gina.logue@mtsu.edu)

 

A close-up view of a mural painted on the side of a monument to the North Vietnamese soldiers killed in the Tet Offensive.

This photo shows a close-up view of a mural painted on the side of a monument to the North Vietnamese soldiers killed in the Tet Offensive.

A full view of the total monument.

This photo shows a full view of the total monument.

 

Friday, March 22

KHE SANH, Vietnam — How many American college students can say they listened to a professor’s lecture in the shade of a C-130 military aircraft — in Vietnam?

That’s just what the pioneering MTSU study-abroad history class did on March 22 as they visited the former site of the Khe Sanh Combat Base.

“The battle of Khe Sanh calls into question the American strategy and perhaps helps to gain some insight into the North Vietnamese strategy,” said Dr. Derek Frisby, MTSU associate professor of history.

MTSU history professor Derek Frisby lectures about the Vietnam War battle of Khe Sanh in the shade of a U.S. Army C-130 transport plane. From L to R, Kenna Porter (obscured by hat), Sergio Zaaueta, Justin Lowe, Courtney Schaaf, Bryan Gilley, Matt Deville (standing), Lizette Palk (sitting). (MTSU photo by Gina Logue)

MTSU history professor Derek Frisby lectures about the Vietnam War battle of Khe Sanh in the shade of a U.S. Army C-130 transport plane. From left to right are Kenna Porter, who’s obscured by her hat, Sergio Zaaueta, Justin Lowe, Courtney Schaaf, Bryan Gilley, Matt Deville and Lizette Palk. (MTSU photo by Gina Logue)

Frisby explained that the assault, which began Jan. 20, 1968, and continued for 77 days, was intended to get North Vietnamese forces onto turf that Americans already controlled. Between the artillery and the aerial attacks, commanders reasoned, they could defeat the enemy.

“The strategy was to make the enemy attack this base and continue to draw enemy forces in this direction,” Frisby said.

In addition to the C-130, the Khe Sanh memorial site features an early Huey helicopter and replicas of the interconnected bunker tunnels American forces used.

Although the U.S. claimed victory at Khe Sanh, some 205 men were killed and 852 wounded there. The North Vietnamese sustained more than 1,600 dead, not counting casualties caused by air strikes, which are estimated to be as high as 10,000.

— Gina Logue (gina.logue@mtsu.edu)

 

 

Bonus video coverage:

 

MTSU alumnus William “Bud” Morris, now an insurance agent who bleeds State Farm red and MTSU blue, returned March 21 to the area where he served with the 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Mechanized Division of the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Watch a video about his experience below.

 

MTSU’s first study-abroad class to Vietnam unexpectedly encountered a busload of North Vietnamese army veterans on their stopover at Khe Sanh. Watch a video from their visit below.

 

The first MTSU students to make a trip to Vietnam as part of their educational experience reflect on what they saw and heard in the video below.


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